On May 17th descendants of the British diplomat Sir Oliver Wardrop visited the Bodleian to donate further items to the Wardrop collection on Georgia. The newly donated material contains correspondence by Sir Oliver written during his period as British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia, 1919-20, and letters written by his sister Marjory on her first visit to Georgia in 1894.
During their visit, family members were shown manuscripts already in the Library’s Wardrop collection by Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who is currently writing a book about the collection.
Descendants of Sir Oliver Wardrop with Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze showing their additions to the Wardrop collection
Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 30th November will have the opportunity to see two Georgian manuscripts from the Wardrop collection, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Amiran Unbound’: Christ’s last foe in the Caucasus. From the early days of their 1894 stay in Georgia, Marjory Wardrop and her brother Oliver were fascinated by the abundance of tales of a chained hero Amiran, recounted throughout the entire Caucasian highlands. These stories bore a striking resemblance to the classical myth of Prometheus, meanwhile revealing a quasi-Christian influence. The Wardrops launched something of an ethnographic quest in attempts to discover the lost ‘Caucasian cousin’ of the Greek titan. The display will include Oliver Wardrop’s notes on a version of the tale told by a smith (MS. Wardr. d. 40/4, f. 2r). The legend says that when Amiran was chained to the rock, his faithful dog began licking the chain and by Maundy Thursday had made it so thin that it would have broken had it not been for a smith striking his anvil with his hammer that day, which caused the chain to become as strong as it was before. This gave rise to the tradition of smiths striking their anvils on Maundy Thursday to ward off the calamity of Amiran escaping his chain.
A 19th century manuscript of the Bežaniani, one of the many Georgian adaptations of the Shahnameh, will also be on display (MS. Wardr. e. 23, fols 24v-25r). Manuscripts of this type were used for oral performances in the public spaces of Tbilisi. The crude addition of the orthodox creed in the opening on that will be on show, suggests the religious zeal to suppress such ‘unchristian’ behaviour.
Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view these manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.
Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 19th October will have the opportunity to see two 17th century manuscripts of Shota Rustaveli’s epic poem, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Come, let us sit for Tariel’: The story of The Man in the Panther’s Skin. This 12th century work was dedicated to Queen Tamar, Georgia’s greatest ruler, and to this day remains a monument of Georgian national identity. The two manuscripts that will be on show were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2014 as part of a joint nomination made with Georgia’s National Centre of Manuscripts. Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view the manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.
Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who organised the recent Oxford University colloquium Medieval Georgian Heritage in Turkey, has been instrumental in securing a significant donation of Georgian books to help extend the collection of reference materials available to scholars working with the Wardrop collection.
The colloquium featured an impressive display of publications on the manuscripts, heritage and culture of Georgia, which had been donated by the Korneli Kekelidze National Centre of Manuscripts, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and Buba Kudava of Artanuji Publishing. These donations have now come to the Bodleian, which has one of the finest collections of Kartvelain material outside of Georgia built on the nucleus of books, manuscripts and archives donated by the Wardrops.
The Wardrop Collection was formed by Sir Oliver Wardrop, who was the United Kingdom’s first Chief Commissioner of Transcaucasus in Georgia, 1919-21 and his sister Marjory, who, after teaching herself Georgian, was the first person to make an English prose translation of the Georgian National epic, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. After Marjory’s early death in 1909, the Marjory Wardrop Fund was founded for the encouragement of Georgian studies and from 1910, through this fund, the Bodleian became the beneficiary of all Marjory Wardrop’s papers, books and manuscripts. They were supplemented by further donations from Sir Oliver until his death in 1948. The library has continued to build on this foundation ever since.
Over the coming months, Dr. Aleksidze will be writing a series of guest blogs which will highlight items from the collection and in the autumn he will commence a series of lectures at the Weston Library focusing on the extraordinary legacy of the Wardrops.